This Saturday, as Aberdeen host Partick Thistle to keep up pressure on Rangers for second place in the Scottish Premiership, one topic will dominate terrace talk. Plans for a new stadium at Kingsford have just been submitted. If realised, more than a century of football at Pittodrie will come to an end. Tony Dawber speaks to Aberdeen fans for and firmly against the move.
Pittodrie exudes tradition. Home of Aberdeen FC since their formation in 1903, its turnstiles are set in a wall made from the very rock that gave the Granite City its name. Behind, icy winds whip off the North Sea. Close by, the many watering holes of the city centre have been pre-match haunts for generations.
But, if recently submitted plans are realised, this will all change. By 2019, The Dons could be playing at a new-build at Kingsford, beside the new bypass on Aberdeen’s western outskirts.
The proposal has long divided local supporters.
‘It’s the right thing to do,’ says lifelong fan Kevin Rinchey. ‘To keep Pittodrie up to Scottish Premiership, let alone UEFA standard, is costing a small fortune.’ Lewis Walker of leading fans’ group Dons Supporters Together, backs Rinchey’s viewpoint. ‘The result will be monumental in shaping the club’s future,’ he claims.
‘In my opinion, it is imperative the plans are approved both for the club and the city. It would be calamitous if they weren’t.’
Others have serious doubts. According to an Aberdeen correspondent for The Away Section, ‘The desire for a new stadium reflects very badly on Aberdeen fans. This is such a traditional, historic club’.
The spokesman goes on to argue that the club itself has tried to force the move, standing by as Pittodrie has crumbled. ‘It’s not fit for purpose and the club has allowed this to happen.’
While the old place is showing its age, Rinchey points out that modernising Pittodrie is not a realistic option.
‘There is not enough land around the stadium to build and improve the current site. We need a state-of-the-art facility, not just for the club, but for the north-east of Scotland as a whole. We desperately need training facilities to be part of the project and attract young players.’
The move is by no means a done deal. When a scheme for the new ground to be built at Loirston Loch on the southern edge of town failed to clear planning hurdles, the project stalled.
But the new plan, calling for a 20,000 all-seated stadium, academy facilities and a club museum seven miles west of the city centre, appears to have united the club and the local council.
Football is not that simple, though.
Residents of Westhill, the village by the new site, are certainly not happy about the development. The AwaySection correspondent again: ‘The popular opinion of the Aberdeen fan base has been seduced by fancy graphic images of the new stadium and what the concept might entail,’ says the spokesman, also expressing concern that the financial burden of the Kingsford project could weigh down Aberdeen FC for years.
‘The club do not have £50 million of private investment to build the stadium. In effect, finding structured finance to fund it will lead to the club being hugely in debt for years, severely impacting on the playing squad. New-builds have been shown to be failures across the face of Scottish football. It’s a small league with small rewards.’
And even the pro-move lobby has conceded that if the move does go ahead, important issues raised by the fans must be taken into account. ‘We keep hearing how important it is to create a stadium with atmosphere, possibly with a standing area, as well as a large supporters’ club/pub to accommodate the out-of-town location,’ says Rinchey.
‘A good public transport link is also essential but with the new city bypass opening in the next couple of years, this should be easier to accommodate.’
What is not in doubt is that leaving would be a huge wrench for everyone.
‘I first went there as a six year old in 1974,’ says Rinchey, ‘and I’ve been a season ticket holder for most of the last 43 years. I’m not ashamed to admit that it will be an emotional day the last time I walk out of that stadium.’